EARLHAM ROAD (South,off)
Suffolk Terrace and adjoining walkway and stairs to rear, at the University of East Anglia
Four linked blocks of student accommodation, with facilities for resident tutors. 1964-8 by Denys Lasdun and Partners, commissioned in 1962 to produce a master plan for the new University of East Anglia.
Cross wall concrete construction with precast panels made on site, 10" thick externally, with 6" loadbearing crosswalls within. Internal joints recessed, external joints with neoprene baffle and damp proof backing. Siporex precast concrete roof units. Seven storeys and service tower, though sloping site means that no part of the building is more than five storeys at any one point. The stepped section and the continuous profile with each block at 90 degrees to the next gives the terrace its more common name of ziggurat. Each block itself with a 90 degree corner ending in a concrete gargoyle.
Each block has a flat on each floor for up to twelve students, with ten single rooms and (in the concave angle) one shared unit, and a shared kitchen in the projecting corner. Bathrooms and storage areas at the rear. Smaller flats at top of each block for graduates and resident tutors. Each floor is set back behind the one below, and lowered so that the roof level of the lower flat is the sill level of that above.The consequent reduction in ceiling heights in the rear part of the block makes for a shorter access stair, with twelve steps between each floor. Internal staircases at centre of each block lead from each flat to rear walkway at level of uppermost flat (though only third floor at rear) over bicycle and carparking area. Escape stairs, dog-leg and of shuttered concrete, at each end of the range. Continuous timber windows to south, each in two halves with horizontal sliding section. They form an important part of the striking composition of stepped-back vertical and repetitive horizontal grid. The interiors of the students' units with fitted cupboards to the rear of each room.
The University of East Anglia was founded in 1960, and Lasdun was commissioned as consultant architect in April 1962. The site was 165 acres of parkland on the edge of Norwich, used by the local authority as a golf course and flanked by the River Yare, dammed to form a lake (or broad) in c.1977. Lasdun was determined to preserve the flat, marshy and very open valley landscape and the line of ziggurats placed where the valley begins to rise is part of this. In 1960 Chamberlin, Powell and Bon had conceived the 'ten minute university' in their expansion scheme for Leeds; here Lasdun's aim was the 'five minute university' where departments and student accommodation was to be concentrated on a compact site. UEA and Leeds both adopted the principle of the continuous teaching block, something developed almost concurrently, but independently, in North America and particularly Canada.
Lasdun's nascent scheme, published in May 1963, intended a development of up to 6,000 people over fifteen years, and shows the form of the ziggurats and long spinal teaching block in a form clearly recognisable though more complex and extensive than that built. The accommodation of the students in independent flats, away from a collegiate system, marked a new departure in allowing students greater freedom within a 'family unit' of their peers. The stepped form owes something to Sant'Elia's drawings for 'Casa a gradinate', and to Marcel Breuer's 1928 scheme for a hospital at Elberfeld, which had a stepped section and an upper gallery for rear access.
The expression of the services as rooftop sculpture reflects Lasdun's awareness of Louis Kahn's Richards Medical Laboratories at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as earlier projects of his own. His scheme for Churchill College, Cambridge (1960), had already used similar terraces, as did his built scheme at Christ's College and proposals for the Cripps Building at St John's (both Cambridge 1962). There, too, and at Leicester, Sir Leslie Martin had already been experimenting with stepped terraces. UEA was Britain's first and most successful expression of a university as a small city rather than a dispersed campus, and William Curtis suggests that it was influential internationally, particularly on Giancarlo de Carlo, and Josic Candilis and Woods, members of Team 10 who shared Lasdun's interest in clustered communities.
'The powerful sculptural forms of the Lasdun UEA make the university proud to find itself on the international circuit. The buildings themselves, however, should be seen not only as form-making and an intellectualised counterpoint between the building mass and the landscape; they give lessons in consistent detail throughout a wide-ranging building programme and illustrate a single-minded effort to ensure high quality maintenance-free exteriors and internal elements within permitted cost levels' (Architects' Journal, 14 June 1972, p.1334). Of all the new universities of the 1960s the architecture of UEA 'has most consciously created a visual impression of experiment and enquiry, yet without the use of bizarre forms of materials, and notably without recourse to any academic architecture' (Tony Birks and Michael Holford, Building the New Universities, 1972, p.73). 'Why one likes Lasdun's East Anglia student clusters is that they have a front and a back and a counter-part space - that it is a unitary living idea, harnessing repetition' (Peter Smithson).
Arup Journal, March 1968, pp.36-41
Peter Smithson, 'Simple thoughts on repetition', Architectural Design, August 1971, pp.479-81
Architects' Journal, 14 June 1972, 1322-38
Tony Birks and Michael Holford, Building the New Universities, Newton Abbot, 1972, pp.73-83.
Denys Lasdun and Partners, A Language and a Theme, London, 1976
Diane Kay, University Architecture in Britain 1950-75, unpub. PhD thesis, Oxford, 1987, p.184
William J R Curtis, Denys Lasdun, London, 1994, 87-101
Stefan Muthesius, The Postwar University, Utopianist Campus and College, London, Paul Mellon Centre/Yale University Press, 2001 pp.138-149
Stefan Muthesius, Concrete and Open Skies, The University of East Anglia, 2001